How Do You Mentor Faculty Women?

Mentoring is practiced at 81% of post-secondary institutions that attempt to improve women’s representation in computing. It is a form of professional development that leads to better instructors, increases retention, promotes understanding of academic values, and raises self-confidence in the skills needed for academic success.

Faculty mentoring often addresses topics such as research, publishing, and scholarship; teaching, tenure and retention; and relationships with colleagues. Formal mentoring programs that include group meetings of mentoring pairs allow mentors to learn from each other, and mentoring pairs are supported through difficult periods.

The time pressures that faculty typically experience can work against the regular meetings that contribute to a successful mentoring experience. However, competing demands always require priority setting, and mentoring is worth the time it takes. In the end, participants often wish they had devoted even more time to their mentoring activities. A carefully evaluated faculty mentoring program at SUNY Stony Brook reports that protégés found that mentoring saved more time than it cost.

Important ingredients for successful faculty mentoring programs include: structured activities, including group meetings of mentoring pairs; early participation of new faculty; information from protégés about what characteristics they want in a mentor; a formal program that persists until pairs feel bonded and meet regularly; close friends are not paired; participants are warned early on about the dangers of sexual harassment or overly dependent protégés; the program has a coordinator who facilitates frequent meetings of mentoring pairs; and there is regular contact during which participants report on their activities. The SUNY Stony Brook program also attributes much of its success to matching new faculty with mentors outside their department who have three to five years of experience.

 

WHAT IS MENTORING?

Mentoring occurs when an experienced person serves as a trusted counselor, teacher, and advocate to an inexperienced protégé. Mentoring usually happens on a personal level in the context of a relationship that develops over time, in contrast to the more remote and one-dimensional role modeling. Mentoring may combine affective support, such as offering a sympathetic ear, with instruction in professional behavior and tasks. It includes actions such as sponsoring, coaching, acquiring resources, and providing exposure and protection to the protégé.

Formal mentoring programs usually have several components. They match mentors with protégés, offer events or activities to develop mentoring relationships, provide resources and instruction for achieving the desired outcomes, and evaluate results for participants and the organization. Effective mentoring programs are carefully planned, with attention to specifying, communicating, and measuring objectives, and developing sufficient resources to implement fully.

Mentoring programs most commonly fail due to unanticipated high costs of operations; usually time costs for program facilitation are severely under-estimated. Although mentoring is not always a positive experience, it usually enhances career commitment for men and women, including women in male-dominated fields such as IT. Benefits include more rapid career advancement and career satisfaction, as well as enhanced academic self-confidence of women in disciplines where the majority of faculty members are men. Both same-sex mentoring and mixed-sex mentoring are effective, although participants may find same-sex mentoring more comfortable.


Resources

  • Please see NCWIT’s Mentoring-in-a-Box: Academic Women in Computing, http://ncwit.org/resources.res.box.industry.html
  • Berk, R. A. Berg, J., et al. (2005), Measuring the effectiveness of faculty mentoring relationships. Academic Medicine, 80(1), 66-71.
  • Zachary, L. J. (2005). Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Boyle, P. & Boic, B. (1998). Systematic mentoring for new faculty teachers and graduate teaching assistants. Innovative Higher Education, 22(3).

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Authors: Lecia Barker and J. McGrath Cohoon